Movies and politics make strange bedfellows, and usually really bad ones. That doesn’t mean the two don’t end up in the sack more often than the cast of Melrose Place. Witness the barrage of cinema-political mating to occur in the last year, including the blatant Fahrenheit 9/11 and the slightly more than subtle Day After Tomorrow. Obviously some movies are more politically charged than others, meant to stir up controversy and spark discussion. Then there are rare cinematic anomalies that seem to want to, in the words of Olivia Newton-John, “build a bridge of love”. Welcome to the absurdity that is Red Heat.
If you asked most people under the age of 21, they’re likely to guess that the Cold War is the government’s flu shot distribution campaign. For the rest of us who remember the real enemies of the original James Bond movies, Red Heat will make a little more sense. Those of you young’uns who slept through most of high school history class, listen up. I’ve included here, for your benefit, my lecture notes about Red Heat and the value of bridge-building cinema in the Cold War era.
Captain Ivan Danko (Ahnold) is a Russian Soviet police officer assigned to bring down a drug ring that has been causing the Kremlin much unwanted grief. After all, everyone knows that life in a socialist country is perfect and automatically eliminates any desire for illicit drugs. (Pause for laughter). Danko also has a pet parakeet. That’s an important note, kids. Write it down. Viktor Rostavili (Ed O’Ross) and his brother, ring leaders of the drug outfit that Danko is sent to shut down, are eventually cornered in small Moscow pub. The drug lords make a daring escape attempt that ends with both Rostavili’s brother and Danko’s partner being shot to death. Rostavili manages to escape and flees to the United States leaving partnerless Danko to find solace with his pet parakeet. Sound confusing? Don’t worry, it’s just the first five minute of the film.
Eventually Danko’s chance for revenge comes. Viktor is arrested by U.S. police on some lame traffic citation (funny how movie drug lords can easily avoid the FBI and DEA, but always mange to get busted for failing to signal while turning). No one in the U.S. seems to know why the Soviet Union wants Viktor back so badly, but they readily agree to turn him over to Soviet authorities. Of course, Danko is sent to bring the bad guy home to face good old fashioned Russian justice (place rifle to back of head, pull trigger, repeat as necessary). He bids his parakeet a tearful farewell and sets off for the evil land of capitalism.
Assigned to assist Danko during his visit to the U.S. are two of Chicago’s finest, Art Ridzik (James Belushi) and his partner, Det. Sgt. Gallagher. There’s plenty of time for the three to grate against each other culturally before real action begins. A rescue operation by local drug thugs to free Viktor results in Gallagher being shot. Viktor is now at large again, and both Ridzik and Danko are without partner. The logical conclusion: the wacky pairing of the quintessential undisciplined American cop and the stereotypical over-disciplined Russian officer. The two must overcome their differences to bring to justice the man who killed both their partners. This naturally gives Ridzik plenty of time to josh Danko about his parakeet.
The remainder of the movie is a stomach churning combination of cheap action sequences, cheesy one-liners and a predictable police movie story line. The only remotely redeeming quality to the film is the constant, hammer-like reminder that people from on both sides of the terrifying Cold War can join together and overcome barriers for the greater good of wiping out drugs. Too bad the Cold War ended one year after the movie’s release.
Red Heat comes complete with all the vulgar schmaltz we’ve come to expect from cheap eighties action movies including pointless nudity and unrealistically frequent swearing. James Belushi is hilarious as always, but the script pins him into hitting the same comedic note over and over. There are some guest appearances by the always lovely Gina Gershon and the formidable Lawrence Fishburne (who actually went by Larry in those days). To top it off we’re offered good ol’ Ahnold doing an awful Russian accent that rivals the badness of Richard Gere’s disappearing/reappearing Irish brogue in The Jackal. As if that weren’t enough, we also get to see Schwarzenegger dressed and styled like Vanilla Ice on steroids (or vice-versa, since Red Heat came out before Ice’s first album…go figure).
Unless you’re nostalgic for Cold War love-bridge building cinema, or you just like parakeet jokes, there’s no need to bother renting this one. Your intelligence and sense of humor will thank you for it.
If you decide to bother, you’ll probably have a hard time finding a copy of Red Heat – Special Edition. Netflix didn’t even manage to make this special edition available to the mail-ordering public. Most movie stores will have a copy of the original 1999 DVD release on their “hasn’t been rented in four years” shelf somewhere between Red Dawn and Rhinestone. If, however, you happen to run across a copy of the special edition gem, take a moment to stop, pick it up, chuckle to yourself, and put it back on the shelf in the most patronizing way possible.
Since the 1999 edition already had digitally mastered video and audio, etc., there wasn’t much more they could do to make it prettier. The label says the special edition video is digitally remastered, but I couldn’t tell much difference from one to the next (I rented the original while waiting for the poor folks at the video store to special stock the Special Edition just for me). Personally, I think it would have been fun to see George Lucas come in and replace James Belushi’s character with a computer generated Jar Jar. No such luck. Basically the only real upgrades the special edition got were a flashy new cover and some sleepy featurettes, all of which make the less expensive original release look that much more appealing.
If you really like seeing stunts explained, or you enjoy hearing how hard it was to film mostly naked men wrestling in snow in the middle of winter, then by all means take a quick look at the various short features tacked on to the package. Otherwise, don’t waste your time.
Apparently Schwarzenegger and director/writer/producer Walter Hill were too busy or too embarrassed to show up and give any in-movie commentary. Given his new found niche in politics, I would have expected Arnold to be all over this one. After all, I attribute the end of the Cold War directly to the theatrical release of this movie. If I were leading the Soviet Union, I too would have dissolved it just to dissuade the American film industry from making Red Heat 2.
This DVD convinced me that the obligatory special edition release has finally descended to being nothing more than a quick buck-or-two fund raising technique for studios needing to keep the money rolling in during the September doldrums. My advice? Try a studio car wash. It’ll probably bring in more cash and embarrass fewer people.